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Friday, 30 November 2018

Mata Hari wanted to know whether I had something... more substantial for her.

Night-time in Koln

I'm just back from a return visit to Koln where we spent two days re-working the Sherlock Musical ( 
And then on Wednesday night I went to the Urania Theatre ( to watch another performance. I emerged wondering why we are trying to change it at all. The house was packed, the audience seemed to love it; the cast appear to be having fun; there is a genuinely feel-good atmosphere about the place.
The answer, of course, lies in the constant search for improvements, and our efforts to make the very best of a show that certainly starts well - vital, brisk, somewhat intriguing - but isn't yet water-tight. Dare I say it, we are reaching for the stars; we wish to create a show that will wow them in Hamburg, Berlin, London.... who knows where else?
So what I thought was a simple enough job when I started back in June - to write a story that would be transformed into a musical show - now has echoes of Koln's famous Dom (above): it took an age to complete (seven centuries, if truth be told)and is constantly being renovated.
Still, there are compensations. Backstage after the show I spoke with our rather wonderful Mata Hari, Kim Morales ( and complained that there were still scenes to re-write. She gave me a radiant smile and said, 'Maybe a little more for me then?'

Suddenly I felt the urge to get back to my keyboard.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

In Koln, for the premiere of Sherlock, Das Musical

The instantly recognisable twin towers of Koln cathedral
Just back from a few days in Germany for the premiere of the Sherlock Musical. This has been a remarkable few months. It started with a chance meeting at a one-day class about social media. There I met Steve Collins Wilson, film-maker, and asked him if he fancied a follow-up meeting to talk about areas of common interest - and to sample the beer at our local.

When we met he had with him a friend, Bettina Montazem, co-director of the Urania Theatre:

The Urania Theatre, Platenstrasse, Koln.

All I remember of that meeting is that Bettina told me she was planning a musical about Sherlock as an old man. I asked when it was set, and she told me it would be around 1915. 'Oh great,' I said, 'you can  get in a lot of references to the Great War. Maybe have a Zeppelin raid on Baker Street.' That was when she revealed that the script writers she had commissioned had no such plans. They had never mentioned the war. A few days later she emailed me and asked whether, as a writer who had previously worked  in TV drama, I would like to be a script consultant.
'You mean picking holes in other people's work?' I replied. 'I'm your man.'
By the time we met again, she had sacked the script team and was... well, let's say that, with only five months left, and having sold the show to a number of other theatres in Germany, she was a trifle anxious. That's when she asked me whether I would have a bash at writing a script. Six days later handed her the first version.
Over the next 2-3 months we had several meetings in Koln and Durham. As a newly formed team,  Bettina, Steve, myself, and musical director Steve Nobles made amendments to the plot and structure, before leaving Steve N to go and write the songs.
We all knew, all along the line, that aiming for an opening night as early as November 7th was ambitious. When I went to the theatre last Monday (the 5th) to see a run-through of Act 1, all seemed well. It really sparkled. Then we started on Act 2. There were problems. Huge ones. I returned to my hotel at two o'clock in the morning with a sense of imminent doom.
All I can say now is that it is a huge tribute to the energy and dedication of the players, the crew and the director - and possibly some omnipotent figure in the sky - that our world premiere went ahead at all. More than that, and despite all the problems and crises, it was, I would say, a triumph. The audience loved it; the players loved it; and the one newspaper review we have had so far is full of praise. We know there are improvements to make, and that no show ever peaks on opening night, but we are immensely heartened by what we have so far.
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So, a great few days, a theatrical success, but this is not a time to celebrate. We need to regroup and turn a good show into a great one. Looks like another trip to Koln for me. But that's fine: I am growing to love the place. 
I once heard a former RAF pilot talking about the 'Dom', as this great edifice (above) is known. He was asked why it  suffered so little damage when the town around it, and the rail yards, were shattered. 'Simple,' he said, 'we made the cathedral our target, night after night. And generally, we missed it.'


Friday, 2 November 2018

A weekend at Black Sail

Black Sail Youth Hostel

We were celebrating a 60th birthday. It's good to hang out with youngsters. And the chosen venue was this wonderful - and extremely comfortable - youth hostel in Ennerdale, in the English Lake District. We had two full days for walking, and near-perfect conditions: that is, no rain (a Lakeland speciality) and plenty of sun (a Lakeland rarity). Day 1, we climbed past the hostel to the ridge (ahead) which ended in a very steep climb on a rocky track that took us top the declivity in the middle of the photo.
It may not look so far from the bottom, but when you make the top and look back, yes, it's quite impressive. And you can  just about make out the hostel, beside the stream.
From the ridge we headed south, over a small rise and then west into Wasdale. Our objective was to get down to the stream, follow it round into the valley and get around the back of the mountain you see at the far end of the shot. 
Starting the descent into Wasdale

By the time we had got to the water, and found a sunny spot, it was time to eat the packed lunch provided by the hostel. We found a delightful place to sit: warm, sheltered from the breeze, with a convenient pool where we bathed our feet.

From there we faced another steep climb, first into this wonderful natural bowl...

...and then swinging right to climb to the ridge, and the welcome sight of the hostel, about a thousand feet below :
The hostel from the ridge to the south, courtesy of the zoom lens

On the Sunday, we had to make our way back to where the car was parked, about six miles down the valley track. Rather than take what was really a rather easy, if pretty, walk, we chose the more challenging route, over three successive peaks: High Crags, High Style and Red Pike.
On the way to High Crags. The temperature was about 3 C, the wind gusted at Force 6-7, and we frequently found ice under our feet

Between the crags we had fabulous views down to Buttermere

It was an exhilarating walk, only tarnished by the inevitable descent: some 2500 feet before we finally hit the road that would take us back to the car. 

Down down, down - and pretty hard on the knees. But note the glorious view of the distant sea.

Back to real life now, but only briefly. Tomorrow morning we fly to Cologne and await the premiere of Das Sherlock  Musical on Wednesday (it's at the Urania Theatre). I'll be interested to see what the composer and lyricist (not to mention the cast and translator) have done with my original script.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Hiking across Corsica, coast to coast.

A last view of Corsica's west coast before we headed into the mountains 

The northerly coast-to-coast route across this rugged Mediterranean island runs from Cargese, north of Ajaccio, to Mariani, an hour's bus ride south of Bastia. It's about 90 miles long. The days varied between 6 and 12 miles, but always seemed to take up most of the hours of daylight. We have become expert in the art of dawdling, especially where there are mountain streams to bathe in, and wild fruit to pick: blackberries, walnuts, figs, chestnuts.

Chestnuts - remnants of the groves planted by the Italians some 3-400 years ago - are everywhere...

As is the arbutus - or 'strawberry' - tree: a rather gritty fruit, but it would keep you going in an emergency.

They say the best time to visit Corsica is in the spring, for the wild flowers. We were too late for that, but were delighted to find wild cyclamen (and autumn crocus) dotted around the woodlands.

While we had glorious day-time weather - bright sun and temperatures around 18-23 C (64-73 F) - the mornings were deliciously cool - enough for the occasional touch of frost. On this day (below) we'd set off from the old capital, Corte, before sun-up in order to fit in a 12-mile trek with a thousand metres of climbing, and a similar descent. Ten minutes after taking this picture we were in dazzling sunlight and breaking sweat.

Ripe sloes crusted with early morning frost
While the interior of the island appears empty, tiny villages dot the mountainsides, often tucked away in unlikely settings.

We were in some doubt, before we started, about our fitness for this hike. Corsica is known for its spectacular (i.e., challenging) terrain.

Our route lay thataway, through the pass

So we had one or two escape routes planned - there was a train out of Corte, on day 6, for example. But we seemed to grow into it. We ate like navvies in the gites d'etape where we put up most nights (bed, breakfast, dinner and a packed lunch for about 40 euros) and felt fitter by the day. Here I am, a picture of health, at the journey's end - albeit after a bucket of mussels, a carafe of red wine, a grilled fish for main course, and a wonderful Corsican tart for dessert.

Lunch beside the sea after eleven tough days.


Friday, 3 August 2018

Memories of Nebraska (2)

The passage of time

One of the things I enjoy about Nebraska is that so much of its recent history is on the surface. I took this picture on a neighbour's ranch when I was staying in a hunting lodge in Cherry County. That was 2011. I'll be interested to see whether the wagon is still holding up. I kinda doubt it.